GRAND FORKS, N.D.--Due for a letdown after going unbeaten in its past 11 WCHA games, Wisconsin had one against one of the teams in the WCHA in which you can least afford to take a night off.
In front of 11,962 fans at sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena, Wisconsin produced one of its poorest efforts of the season, dropping the series finale to North Dakota, 4-1.
The game was the final meeting between the two schools in the regular season as members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Next season the Badgers move to the Big Ten, while UND will join the newly formed National Colleigate Hockey Conference.
"They earned the win," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said after the game. "It was just an old-fashioned butt-kicking."
North Dakota took advantage of its opportunities early in the contest, notching two power-play goals in the opening stanza.
"When you dig yourself a two goal hole in the first couple of minutes, it's tough to come back from," Ryan Little said after the game. "That was the difference tonight."
With Frankie Simonelli in the penalty box, North Dakota took a 1-0 lead just 45 seconds into the game on Mark MacMillan's ninth goal of the season. Red-shirt freshman Rocco Grimaldi fired a shot towards the Badger net that MacMillan was able re-direct past UW goaltender Landon Peterson for the early lead.
North Dakota would score its second power-play goal of the night at the 13:24 mark of the first period, this time on Joe Gleason's fourth goal of the season. UND forward Corban Knight found Gleason streaking in back door, and Gleason did the rest, banging it home past Peterson for the 2-0 lead.
Officiating all weekend was a question mark for both sides, and it reared its ugly head in the second period on a goal that could be deemed a game-changer given the back-breaking effect a three goal lead can have on a team.
Wisconsin's Sean Little was blatantly hooked to the ice in the neutral zone, but the officials let play continue. Like clockwork, UND went the other way and scores, as North Dakota sophomore Michael Parks is able to beat Peterson on a nice move out front off the line-rush.
Eight minutes later Parks struck again, his second goal of the period, this time on a wrap-around. After a shot from North Dakota's Carter Rowney was deflected behind the net, Parks picks up the loose puck and is able to beat Peterson to the far post, giving UND an insurmountable 4-0 advantage.
Mark Zengerle was able to cut the deficit to three on a rebound goal in the third period. Joseph LaBate fired a shot on the UND net from a bad angle that deflected perfectly to the stick of Zengerle who buried it into the open net on the back-side.
The goal was too-little, too-late for Wisconsin, who was thoroughly dominated throughout the contest.
"We weren't playing our game, and got outplayed in pretty much every aspect," Little said after the game.
As can be expected in any rivalry game, things got heated late in the third period with Wisconsin down three goals. A scrum in the corner saw UND's Dan Senkbeil and Derek Rodwell wrestling with UW's Eddie Wittchow and Sean Little.
As the penalties were being sorted out, and the players herded to their respective penalty boxes, Wisconsin's Michael Mersch jumped off the bench and both he, and North Dakota's Stephane Pattyn dropped their gloves and helmets in an attempt to fight.
Unfortunately for the fans who were egging on the bout, the referees were able to grab both players before a punch was ever thrown. Both players were assessed 10-minute misconducts for their part in the action.
Considering all that Wisconsin's been through this season, Eaves believes that this team has the ability to bounce right back when they host Bemidji State next weekend.
"We've been through some storms already," Eaves noted. "We understand that we can be resilient. We'll come back to work on Monday and Tuesday and get it going again."
Wisconsin's team captain John Ramage seemed to echo his coaches' post game thoughts.
"As tough of a game as it was, we're not doubting anything that we've done this past couple of months," Ramage said, referencing UW's recent 15 game stretch in which they went 10-1-4.
"I'm excited to get going next week."
Considering the hole Wisconsin dug themselves at the start of the season, every game is important going forward.
"Every game is the biggest game of the year," Eaves said. "We play next Friday, that's a big game."
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